Letter to the Editor: Outgoing MU Director of Libraries urges students to say “yes” to the proposed library fee

"Your libraries are the ONLY academic division on campus that does NOT have a designated student fee."

To all students at MU:

I want to thank all of you who have attended the several open forums held by MSA and GPC to learn about the proposed student library fee. Having attended most of the forums, I have been heartened by the expressions of caring and support you have voiced at the meetings. I and other members of the library staff have listened and learned from your comments and ideas. We deeply appreciate your concerns.

Like you, I’ve been frustrated by the pervasive underfunding that the MU Libraries have experienced since long before I arrived as library director almost 14 years ago. For as long as I have worked here, I’ve attempted to increase revenues for the libraries. When I arrived on campus in 2002, I knew there was no hope of gaining any new funding from the state. Missouri has not adequately funded higher education for many decades, and it has ranked near the bottom of the 50 states in per-capita support for public colleges and universities for generations.

As for gaining any significant new funding from the MU campus administration, I have been successful only once, in academic year 2009-10, when we received an increase of $1.1 million to our base budget for library collections. That was important, because it allowed us to avoid major cuts in journal subscriptions for at least a few years. Unfortunately, the annual rate of inflation for scholarly journals is often more than four times that of the Consumer Price Index, and we now face as much as $700,000 in cuts to our materials budget in order to avoid a deficit next fiscal year.

In terms of raising cash donations from alumni and other private individuals, our fundraising efforts have increased library endowments (pooled accounts that pay earnings every year) from $2 million in 2002 to over $10 million last year. These funds currently provide us with an annual revenue stream of $500,000, an amount that helps us cover some shortfalls, but it does nothing to address the fact that we are $15 million below the average annual expenditures of our peer libraries. We can’t expect our alumni and friends to provide that kind of ongoing support for library operations.

That leaves only one source to relieve the substantial underfunding that has plagued the MU Libraries for many years: our largest and most important user group, MU students. All academic divisions and colleges on campus have been facing the same financial pressures as the libraries, but they now have something that we don’t have – they all have a dedicated student fee. Your libraries are the ONLY academic division on campus that does NOT have a designated student fee. Every other MU college has been able to gain more revenue in recent years from the increased numbers of students at Mizzou — but not your libraries.

That’s why we have proposed a student library fee. It’s the only means we have left to stop the decline that has resulted from decades of underfunding for the MU Libraries. Students now at MU have a rare opportunity: by enacting this fee, you will be making an investment that will have an immediate and lasting effect on both the quality of the education and the value of the degrees that you receive from this university.

This is an important vote on Nov. 10. We hope you will vote YES for the MU Libraries.

Jim Cogswell, Director of Libraries cogswellja@missouri.edu

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